For my uncle Paul, one of my biggest fans, love DragonBeck
15 years hard labour on the mining planet Oryon with no hope of reprieve … is your sentence.
Kelvin opened his eyes to find the grey ceiling of the prison berthing on Oryon staring back at him, the memory of the judge’s voice thundering through the courtroom.
“Fourteen years, six months, two weeks, six days,” Kelvin told the unforgiving ceiling. For some reason, perhaps a sense of nostalgia and homesickness, they still measured time here by Earth-rotation – Oryon’s years were over ten times that of Earth’s.
A clanging bell sounded, and Kelvin’s legs swung over the side of the bunk of their own accord, trained by repetition and routine of his life here. The doors slid open with a sinister swish, and Kelvin pulled on his oversuit and tool-belt in a swift motion.
The other inmates were already streaming down the catwalks, their orange oversuits absurdly cheerful for their depressing existence down here in the mine. Kelvin joined the human flood, buckling the belt tight against his lean frame. Breakfast was as unexciting as usual, protein porridge and calorie-dense syrup that tasted like sweaty socks, and Kelvin’s stomach clenched in protest as the old lift clattered and grumbled as it took the first load of miner-prisoners down even farther into the planet’s core.
It shuddered to a halt, and Kelvin walked out, trying not to notice the dead-eyed miners waiting to be taken up after the shift that further sapped any semblance of life in them. Someone handed Kelvin one of the sonic blasters, and not for the first time he thought about turning it on his captors, but that would get him nowhere. Much like the ocean around Australia, the space around Oryon made it the perfect prison.
Kelvin walked down the mineshaft. No one really cared where the miners went, or if one or two got lost in the labyrinth. If they found a rich vein of Orynium, they were rewarded with extra rations at dinner for a week. It was a win-win situation.
Kelvin left the line, and turned down a side shaft, firing the blaster at random spots in the wall. The stone liquefied and rippled back to solidity, but didn’t crystallize, indicating the presence of the precious Orynium.
He continued firing, his mind wandering to more pleasant places. It was jarred out when something rumbled. Kelvin stopped. The rumbling increased, the floor vibrating under his feet. Then it stopped. Kelvin breathed a sigh of relief. Though life was hell here, and sometimes dying seemed a better alternative, when push came to shove, a miserable life was better than no life.
He decided to go check out the collapse. A few turns later he found the impasse, a solid wall of crumbled rock. Out of habit, he fired the blaster. The rock shimmered and turned into white crystal.
Kelvin blinked, and forgot for a moment what that meant. Orynium. He pressed against the crystal, and it gave under his hand like sponge. He dug it out and it came out in chunks. It took about an hour before he reached rock again.
He frowned. He should’ve found some of the metal, but there was nothing. He fired the blaster again, and dug through the foamy rock. After he had repeated this three or four times, he lost count.
He sat on his knees, and wiped sweat from his brow, panting. He should probably turn back and check in. It was probably dinner time by now. One more time, he decided.
The spongy material came away easily, then his hand hit something hard. Pulling more of the morphed stone away revealed metal, but it wasn’t Orynium.
Kelvin dug more, and uncovered the back fin of a planet hopper. Dinner forgotten, Kelvin worked until he had uncovered the entirety of the vehicle, complete with its load of Orynium.
Kelvin stood back and admired his prize, no longer concerned with checking in. An extra portion of dinner wasn’t as appealing as an early release.